Pennsylvania Transportation Authority to Drop Gender Markers

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The discussion came about a year after Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution calling for an end to the gender-marker system. Efforts to abandon the system were largely led by Riders Against Gender Exclusion, which contended the markers discriminated against transgender and gender nonconforming riders.

Philadelphia’s transit system has used the designated male and female stickers since the 1980s. SEPTA will implement a New Payment Technology system in 2014 but announced last year that it would do away with the gender markers before then.

Many LGBT activists hailed the end to the policy but some contended the decision should have come years ago.

“It’s long overdue and that it’s still taking so long points to how SEPTA really values the LGBT people who pay fares and taxes to support the system,” said LGBT activist Kathy Padilla.

Padilla referenced a lawsuit SEPTA filed in 2009 in Common Pleas Court that claimed the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations did not have jurisdiction to investigate bias complaints against the transit agency.

“SEPTA’s assertion that they are not covered by the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance before the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission to further delay this rather simple change is appalling and should be a warning to LGBT people who might consider working there,” Padilla added.

But, she said the new move will finally put SEPTA more in line with the rest of the city’s pro-LGBT policies.

“The progress made by the city of Philadelphia in valuing its LGBT citizens is nothing short of amazing. It’s sad that SEPTA has chosen to resist the arc of history for so long,” Padilla said.

SEPTA spokesperson Jerri Williams said general manager Joseph Casey had long been open to discontinuing the gender markers.

“He was interested and he had met with members of the transgender community at least once if not more than once,” she said. “He understood their concerns and always wanted to make sure our system was comfortable and accessible for everyone and never wanted to be in a situation that anyone felt it wasn’t.”

Williams added that the gender markers are part of the fare tariff, so the change required public hearings and an affirmative vote by the SEPTA board, which took place earlier this year.

“There was also concern about lost revenue and it would be easier for people to share passes, which is still a concern but we only have another year before we move to a new payment system and was willing to go ahead and make changes now,” Williams said.

Director of LGBT Affairs Gloria Casarez told PGN that the removal of the stickers should be celebrated by those who fought so hard for it.

“It is a great and positive outcome after many years of fighting. I’ve always felt that the stickers were inappropriate,” she said. “Nowhere on a bus driver or train-operator job description is there ‘gender assessor,’ yet that is what SEPTA drivers have had to do. Having to do so was, frankly, a safety issue for the drivers as well as the person they were assessing. Potentially denying a person access to public accommodations based upon a sticker is pretty outrageous.”

Casarez noted that the victory took longer than necessary.

“It took Charlene Arcilla, a transwoman who had a dispute while trying to access mass transit, to file with the PCHR for us to get movement on this longstanding issue. At any point in our legal challenge, which is active to this day, they could have just stopped using the stickers,” Casarez said. “It took years of waiting even after they said they would phase out the stickers with the new fare card system to get to this day. In the end, they’re eliminating them before the new card system, which they could have done at any time. We’ll take it as a victory, but it was a fight that shouldn’t have taken SEPTA this long to resolve. All riders should have equal access to public transportation. I’m glad we will now.”

From our media partner PGN-The Philadelphia Gay News.

 Angela Thomas